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TV Tropes Monday: The Time of Myths

Tweet of the Day: Alien Ruins Good Enough For You? Or, Why Ruins Keep Getting Ruined.


A time before Time,

Before Gods,

Before History,

An age of Dreams,

A time lost to Man.

This is The Time of Myths.

This is a world building trope that is used in one of two ways. The first is the classic time before recorded history. This version allows for a clean slate where anything can happen because it doesn’t have to follow any historical patterns. Robert E. Howard used it to create his Hyborian Age, an Age before our own where he could use all manner of historical influences without worrying about historical accuracy because it was time before history. So did Robert Moorcock, J.R.R. Tolkien, and many other fantasy writers. But it is not unquie to them. Asimov put the trope to good use in his Foundation Trilogy.

The second is the foundation of an alternate or secret history influence by the Time of Myths. Mankind has forgotten its true history, either due to the passage of time, deliberate manipulation of the recorded history, persecution, or natural disasters. But those who have access to the truth can uncover the secret of the past and with it untold powers. This is both common in Fantasy as well as Urban Fantasy, especially the latter. There the Time of Myths tend to occur as a result of a paradigm shift away from magical thinking to scientific thinking. Any evidence of the ancient magical powers are ignored because they don’t fit modern narratives about the world.

A common twist is to have the modern world be the Time of Myths which becomes shrouded in usually radioactive mists after a nuclear war or other earth shattering disaster. Terry Brooks uses it as the basis of his Shannara series, the late Robert Jordan hinted at the possibility as part of the background o the Wheel of Time series, as did Margarette Weis and Tracy Hickman in the Death Gate Cycle.  In fact, any New Earth  story will, by the nature of the forces that destroyed will rely a lot on this plot.

The last trend brings to important factors that can make or break this trope: how the Time of Myths became shrouded in mystery while at the same time it is connected to our own. Often a cataclysmic event, like the a fore mentioned nuclear war, or a natural disaster serves to break that era from the flow of history. But if the event is to destructive, how did information survive to the present day? If it is not disruptive enough then how come we don’t remember what came before? Answering these questions successfully can lend an air of deep history to the story. A little handwaving also helps.


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